We talked around the idea of the resurrection of Christ last week for Easter, but today I want to dive into the first part of 1 Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul provides a defense for the historical event of the resurrection. It’s one thing to be inspired by the story of the resurrection. And it’s a whole other thing to be convicted that the resurrection is a very real historical event. That requires evidence.
The first evidence that Paul presents is an appeal to the Jewish scriptures, where he argues that Jesus died for our sins just as it was prophesied in the scriptures.
Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them,
For the Apostle Paul, this is the most important reality in all of Christendom. Jesus Christ died for our sins. This has to do with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, also known as the doctrine of penal substitution.
Substitutionary atonement (penal substitution) is the legal fulfillment of our debt to God, paid by Jesus on the cross, on our behalf.
Jesus died so we don’t have to die.
There is a liberal movement within Christianity where some say that the stories about Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead are just stories meant to inspire us to live good and moral lives. People who read the Bible this way would say that the story exists to motivate us to be good and kind and giving to people in life now. They would create a metaphor out of this and say, in the story Jesus Christ died on behalf of humankind, as an example to us, not for atonement. So, the point of the story is, if we want the world to be a good place, then we have to “die for humankind” just like Jesus—not literally, but we have to start living for the good of others.
We have to die to our self-interests, so to speak.
And that’s really tough, because that’s actually a true message. This is a true principle of the message of Jesus Christ that is drawn out all through the New Testament in the Bible and even in the Old Testament.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
That’s precisely the principle liberal Christianity focusses on.
So, the questions is, Is that all that the Gospel is about?
Well, the Apostle Paul would say no. He believed that Jesus really died and he really died to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could spend eternity in the life to come with God.
So, what’s the evidence?
There weren’t a lot of ways of validating truth in biblical times. They didn’t have the development of philosophical thought that we have today.
They couldn’t get on the internet to fact check. And information just didn’t travel so fast. So, when you go to a town and make a claim like this, the people have to choose to believe or reject claims they’ve never heard before and that means they need some sort of evidence.
Well, Paul repeatedly used the Jewish scriptures to prove that Jesus died for the sins of the people.
The thinking goes like this: If the prophets wrote and spoke long before about the coming of the Christ, and then Jesus came and accomplished the things that the prophets said the Christ would accomplish, then the whole story must be true. In other words, the fulfillment makes the prophesy true, but simultaneously, the prophesy makes the fulfillment true. If you are missing the prophesy, then it’s false. And if you are missing the fulfillment it’s false. You have to have both.
In the Old Testament, Moses wrote about prophets and how you can know if you should trust them. He wrote,
You see, a prophet is only to be believed if he speaks true things. And when Jesus Christ came into this world he began to fulfill prophesies all over the scriptures.
So, when Paul came into a new city, the first place he always went—you can see this if you read the book of Acts—is to the Jewish Synagogues and he taught them about the coming of Christ from their own scriptures. And then he taught them that those scriptures were fulfilled in the man Jesus.
It’s interesting, because, Paul calls Jesus, ‘Christ.’ And Christ is the Greek word for ‘anointed one,’ referring to an anointing by God. The Jews were used to the Hebrew term ‘Messiah,’ which also meant ‘anointed one.’ So, when Paul calls Jesus, Christ, he is saying that he is the Messiah of the Jewish scriptures, and they all understood that very well.
So, what I would like to do today is to go through some of the Jewish scriptures—which we call the Old Testament—and review the texts where it was prophesied that the Messiah would come and deal with the sins of the world in a very real way.
I think this is a fruitful venture for us, because, if the people of the first century could look to Jesus and see that the scriptures prophesied about him, and believe based on the evidence that it is true that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, then the mere existence of the Bible, especially the New Testament, and the mere existence of the church which is the institution built of the foundation of Christ’s death, proves the story true for us today as well. And then, we would be foolish to reduce it to just a story or a mere metaphor.
So, the first place I want to go to in the Old Testament is Genesis where we see that…
The Messiah Reverses Sin’s Curse
In Genesis 2 and 3 we read a story where God took a man and a woman and placed them in a Garden to the East of the region called Eden. It was a beautiful garden without thorns and weeds and where fruit grew freely. This was God’s garden, the Garden of the King of Kings. And God told the man, Adam, and the woman, Eve, to work the Garden and to have children and fill the whole earth.
But, they were not to eat of one tree in the Garden, which was the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. God told them that on that day that they eat the fruit of that tree they will surely die.
Now, there was a deceitful serpent in the garden, who the Jews believed was the character we refer to as Satan or the Devil. The serpent went to Eve and told Eve, ‘Truly you will not die if you eat the fruit.’ And he wooed Eve, saying, “Don’t you want to be like God knowing good and evil?” And she did!
In many ways, the sin of the tree was to try to be independent and self-sufficient, not needing the God who created all things, but rather, being like God all on your own. Eve liked that she could live independently of God and so she took the fruit and ate it, and so did Adam.
Now, God came down and banished Adam and Eve from the Garden and he placed a curse on them and on the serpent, because of their disobedience. If you think about it, the biggest part of the curse was actually the banishment, because the banishment meant they had to leave the Kings Garden and likewise the presence of the King. They were unable to be in the presence of God any longer.
Actually, they got exactly what they asked for, independence from God.
But, here’s the prophesy. In the story God said,
Notice the way the direction of the curse changes. It’s almost as if God turns his head mid-curse to address the Devil first and then Eve. There is a connection here between the Devil and his offspring and Eve and her offspring. This points us forward to an ongoing battle that I believe continued through the ancient times and was finished when Jesus died on the cross—it’s what Jesus was referring to when he muttered, ‘It is finished,’ and gave up his Spirit.
But, who fights in the battle?
Jesus told some of the Jews of his day,
Jesus is referred back to the episode in the Garden where the Devil deceived Adam and Eve. But, notice, he said that the person who is the offspring of the Devil is the person who has the same desires as their father, the Devil. And it’s interesting if you know the story. The Devil didn’t like that he was subject to God and wanted to supplant God as supreme King and ruler of the creation. He didn’t want to be subject to God. And that was the sin of the tree in the Garden. The Devil tempted Eve by teaching her that she could be free of God, live independent of God, be her own woman and make her own choices, if she ate the fruit. Living as though God does not exist is the sin of the Devil and thus the sin of Eve is the foundational sin of all humankind. Everyone wants to be the master of their own destiny.
So, then, you know children of the Devil because they want to do as their father does. They live as though God does not exist. Maybe they are atheists or maybe they just go on about their lives, apathetic to the spiritual realities in this world—I call that apatheism, living as if there is no God and not even considering if God is even there. Most of the Devil’s children are very normal people and are probably generally kind people with similar values to you. What makes them children of the devil is that they don’t want to live under the authority of God.
But, knowing who Eve’s offspring is, is more complicated. The Jews believed that their Messiah was the child of Eve mentioned in the Genesis story. And that’s backwards theology. When they realized that the prophets taught that a Messiah would come to restore them to the promises of God, that meant that the Messiah would undo the curse. And if the curse came from the Devil, then the offspring of Eve who would crush the Devil once-and-for-all must be the same character in the story as the Messiah. So, that was their thinking and the Apostle John confirms that in the book of Revelation when he introduces the Devil as, ‘The ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan.’
And that’s what was in the mind of Paul when he wrote,
He believed that Jesus really came to really stop the real Devil and the progression of the Devil’s real sin throughout humankind. And that’s what John believed also. He wrote,
You can see that theme show up again. Sin came from the deceit of the devil and the one who continues to commit sin proves themselves to be the child of the devil. But, notice why Jesus came! He came to destroy the works that the Devil began in the beginning—Jesus came because of Satan’s rebellion against God.
And we are all born on the side of rebellion because of the curse of the Garden. I don’t know any other way to say it than this. We are all born as children of the devil, but Christ died so that we can become children of God.
That’s the thinking.
And it’s tough to think like an ancient person. But the key to to the puzzle exists, all the way back in Genesis 2 and 3.
Do you remember what God said would happen if Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Or to say that differently, Do you remember what God said would happen if they decided they no longer needed God?
He said they would die. But, God didn’t mean just physical death. Here death means eternal separation from God. Paul said it this way,
All the way back in Genesis 2 and 3 it was evident that someone had to die for sins … and because of God’s mercy, He decided that…
The Messiah Dies for the Sins of the World
It’s like, either you die for your own sins and remain in complete spiritual and physical isolation from God and everything good for eternity or you believe that Jesus died to destroy the work of the devil and you can be called a child of God and enter into His presence. Those are the options.
So, the Prophet Isaiah wrote this about the coming Messiah, the Christ,
The suffering of the Messiah is evident in this passage. Isaiah said that the Messiah would suffer so that we could have peace and healing.
There’s two questions there.
Peace with who? And healing from what?
Now, no one would argue with the first question. Peace has to do with peace with God. Remember, we are born as children of the Devil. When we are living as if God does not exist, we are actually making a statement that we are enemies of God. You aren’t just apathetic or indifferent. If you live as though there is no God, regardless of what you claim to believe, you are waging war against the God who created the universe.
And if you think that’s an overstatement, look what James the brother of Jesus said,
For James, you can be a friend of God or a friend of the Devil, but not both and not neither. There’s no in-between and there is no compromise.
So, the Jews believed based on Isaiah’s prophesy that the Messiah would bring them peace with God. And that’s precisely what the testimony of the New Testament says in many places. For example, Paul said,
Jesus’s death and suffering results in peace with God for those who follow Jesus and no longer follow the pattern of the Devil. Jesus’s death reverses the Devil’s work to make enmity with God and results in peace with God.
So, peace is peace with God.
But, what did Isaiah mean when he said, ‘We are healed by His wounds?’
There’s a teaching that goes around that says, if you have enough faith, if you just believe in Jesus enough, then God will heal your wounds. And they mean physical wounds, including diseases and disfigurements. People claim this as a promise that God will heal wounds based on stories in the New Testament where Jesus and the disciples healed people.
Now, I refuse to say that God doesn’t heal people. That’s obviously true to me. He does heal as He wills. But, to say that God promises to heal people based on this passage is a gross misinterpretation. It’s not even what Isaiah is talking about if you read the whole prophesy in Isaiah 53. Isaiah isn’t talking about this life at all; he is talking about the life to come. So it’s not healing for this life; it’s healing for eternal life.
For example, in verse 10, Isaiah says the Messiah will die to take away our guilt so that we can have eternal life. In verse 11, the Messiah dies so that we can be made righteous before God and enter into His Kingdom. This passage has nothing to do with this life and everything to do with the life to come.
So, what Isaiah is actually referring to when he says healing is the healing of the nations that is part of God’s eternal Kingdom or part of heaven.
Here’s how I know that. When God banished Adam and Eve from the garden, he said that he banished them so that they could not eat from the tree of life. And that’s interesting because the tree of life shows up again in the story when the Garden shows up again, which is in the book of Revelation.
The tree actually points back to a story called the Tower of Babel, where the people of the earth unified against God. They wanted to make a great name for themselves on the earth that God had made in order to make His own name great.
And God saw their arrogance, so he confused their languages and spread them over the earth into 70 nations, from which all the nations of the world today have come. He divided the nations, but in the end, he will heal the nations and bring them back together.
The point of this all is that the Messiah’s suffering and death brings about the healing of the nations, because the Messiah’s death brings people back to God.
Now, with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination passing a few days ago, I’m sure you’ve heard quite a bit said about racism and privilege and segregation and all of that. I won’t get into those issues right now, but I will say this: Jesus died so that under the peace of God, Christians at least can find healing with one another regardless of ethnicity, race, skin color, social class, or whatever else we think divides us.
And I’ll say this also, we can push for an end to racism, but it won’t come for the whole world until the end. It doesn’t happen fully until we enter into the eternal Kingdom of God where the tree of life is, because the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. It won’t ever be perfect until the end, but we can push for unity within the Kingdom of God, in the church, now. And that’s the healing that Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would bring.
So, the death of Jesus reverses the devils work to bring enmity with God. It also reverses the dividing of the nations of the earth at Babel. But, Isaiah makes one broader point I want to address.
When we walked away like sheep, causing enmity with God, and when we continued to walk away from God and found enmity with other people, with the nations, and then we all, every person, turned and went our own way instead of God’s way, the Lord punished the Messiah, Jesus Christ, for our iniquity, our sin, our betrayal.
The biggest mistake people make—or I should say, the biggest lie the devil ever told—is that, we believe by nature, that we know God and we do well on our own. [REPEAT->] The biggest mistake people make is that we believe the lie that we know God and we do well all on our own.
That’s the lie of the Garden of Eden.
People consider themselves very spiritual and they think they talk to God, because they pray. And they lead fairly moral lives and they want to see good things happen in the world that seem somewhat the same as what the Bible teaches are good. And let’s be honest, that’s confusing to us as Christians. But, you have to understand, the foundation spiritual issue with the world is not so much that people are bad people; it’s that they don’t know God. Like stupid sheep we all have turned our own way, away from God.
And then every immoral behavior, stems from that foundational spiritual issue. And God knows that. And that’s why when you read the Old Testament, you find that the Messiah brings us back to God, but also…
The Messiah Refines and Purifies the World
The key word there is purifies. The world is full of impurity.
When I was a kid my dad would make his own bullets for his guns. He would take lead from anywhere he could get it and melt it down to mold his own bullets. So he would take an old cast iron pan and put it over a fire in the backyard and melt down old tire weights and stuff like that.
Well, what happens is, when those old tire weights are on a car, they get really dirty. So, when he melted them down, all of the dirt and grime, the impurity, would rise to the top and he would scoop it off with a spoon. To make bullets he needed pure lead so, he had to get the impurity out. The lead needed purified.
Well, this is what God does to us as well. The Prophet Malachi wrote of the Messiah,
There’s a few things going on in this verse I want to show you.
The first is this: You cannot purify yourself. Just by inference, let’s say you could stop doing all immoral things. You can’t, but even if that were possible, you can’t undo all of the immoral things you’ve already done in the past. You just can’t. Time doesn’t work that way. All you can ever do is change what you might do in the future.
And even then, the reality is, you continue to be an imperfect being until you go to be with Jesus in the eternal Kingdom of God, so you will continue to do immoral things, although, less and less as you know God more and more.
So, if you can’t purify yourself, then God, in his mercy, steps in to do what you could never do.
But, think about it further. How is silver or led refined?
It’s refined by being placed in the fire. And fire isn’t really a good experience if you find yourself in it. It burns. It hurts. But, if you’ve ever seen a wound cauterized, you know that sometimes burning is also necessary. You see, God allows us to put ourselves through all sorts of fires in life, all sorts of trials, so that we would be purified. Every time you make the decision to side with the devil, you get burned and you learn to side with God.
God is a refiner and a purifier of people. And he does this so that when we come to him to worship, to present offerings to the Lord, that we can do so in righteousness. No longer do we worship in the impurity of the flesh, but we get refined so we can worship in righteousness. And righteousness is critical for us to know God, because unrighteousness stemmed from our rebellion against God. So, if God deals with our rebellion, He also deals with our unrighteousness. He doesn’t just forgive and forget; He makes us truly good.
And this is interesting, the fire analogy, because there is one particular New Testament character that is associated with fire and that is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. And that makes sense, because when Jesus ascended to heaven to be seated on the throne, he sent the Spirit to earth to indwell His people. And the Spirit works as a conscious to us and a helper to us to live and to work according to God’s ways.
But, I think there’s another grave mistake people make when they talk about the Spirit and fire. Many people gather together to worship and they try to invoke the Spirit of God. They call down the fire of the Spirit on themselves. And I think they are asking for passion and zeal when they do that, but that’s not what the fire of the Spirit is. The fire is the burning conviction of God that burns inside of you to refine you, mold you, and shape you into the character and image of God. And if you’ve ever experienced that, you know that even that kind of fire hurts.
But, that kind of fire is necessary, because again, the Lord is a refining fire. He purifies us. He makes us righteous.
And these are the realities of the Christian faith. I hope you see what I see here.
Jesus died according to the Jewish scriptures. The entire point of the story of the scriptures is that humans walked away from God and God sent his Messiah, Jesus Christ, to bring us back into the presence of God.
The scriptures taught that the Christ would come and that the Christ would die and that by His death, sin’s curse would be undone, the devils work made null and void, and that the sheep that had gone astray would be turned back to the Shepherd, to the one true God, that they might be at peace with God again and that even the nations might be united under the Lordship of the risen Messiah, and even the immorality that plagues our flesh might be purified, that we might be made whole.
And if there is one thing I could ask you to do today, it’s to consider the evidence. Consider that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the scriptures and understand that if Jesus is the promised Messiah, then he really did die, and your sins are really forgiven, and Jesus really rose from the dead, and you will really rise too, to be with God forever.